On Monday, Aug. 5, during our two-hour work session that occurs prior to our formal 7 p.m. City Council meetings, your City Council had the following agenda item:

  • Opioid Litigation (5 min)

From 1964 to 1975, 47,000 American soldiers died in battle in the Vietnam War. From 1941 to 1945, 291,000 American soldiers died in battle in World War II.

In 1995, the peak year of HIV deaths, 50,000 Americans died. During this period, HIV was the No. 1 cause of death for Americans age 25 to 44.

Fast forward to 2014: 6,700 Americans died from HIV. Why the substantial decrease in deaths? Public education, treatment and prevention measures are working. How was the foundation for this improvement developed? Identification of the problem, transparent discourse and a public health response that began in the 1980s.

In 2017, more than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses, a 2-fold increase in a decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This includes illicit drugs and prescription opioids. As a result, the federal government declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.

Native Americans are five times more likely than their white neighbors to die from a drug overdose.

Our friends and family members are dying in unprecedented numbers. One in 10 Americans knows someone who has died from an opioid overdose, according to the National Safety Council.

U.S. lifespan estimates have declined for the second year in a row, primarily due to deaths from drug overdose.

Eleven million Americans misused an opioid pain reliever in the past year.

Opioid over-prescribing is shrinking the number of eligible workers. Seven in 10 companies report being directly impacted by prescription drug misuse.

The National Safety Council has identified six key actions every state should take to save lives. These include mandating prescriber education, implementing prescribing guidelines, integrating monitoring programs into clinical settings, improved data collection and sharing, treating overdoses and increasing availability of disorder treatment.

Minnesota has implemented three of these key actions, just north of failing, receiving a “lagging” grade. Only 13 states and District of Columbia have improved their response to the opioid crisis since 2016.

As the death toll from opioid overdose increases, addressing the crisis becomes ever more urgent. The cycle continues: Prescription opioid abuse leads to illicit drug abuse, which leads to death.

In his Aug, 12 commentary, Wes Mader accurately depicts a legal system gone awry. I agree: Our legal system, particularly related to class-action lawsuits, is nothing short of a dumpster fire. And the system primarily serves to enrich attorneys.

Nonetheless, it’s what we have. And when the going gets tough, do the tough acquiesce? Or do the tough attempt to right the wrong? That’s what this is about.

For clarification, in his column Mr. Mader focused on class-action lawsuits. We weren’t asked to join a class-action lawsuit. We were asked to join multidistrict litigation. In multidistrict litigation, multiple civil cases that share a common issue are transferred to a single district court. This delivers efficiency and consistent court rulings.

There would be little cost to the City, de minimis staff time to compile our cost data. As Mr. Mader described, the biggest winners will be the attorneys.

I would suggest we separate the shortcomings of our legal system from our want for public safety. As public policy makers, we in government and law enforcement must hold those accountable for misdeeds accountable and pursue a commitment to public safety as preeminent.

This is where it gets real.

The Sackler family: The drug-dealing family in Prior Lake of which you’ve never heard. They’ve sold millions of dollars of drugs into our community over the past several decades. They did this under the guise the drugs they peddled were safe, non-addictive and not narcotically potent. That’s what they told their dealers. And their dealers told your family members the same thing.

The Sacklers own Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin.

I struggle to differentiate the Sacklers from a kid dealing meth on our Main Street. Give it a try, it won’t hurt you.

The Sackler family knew their product was unsafe, was addictive and in many cases didn’t help with pain. Nonetheless they directed efforts to mislead the public about OxyContin’s potency and addictive properties. Deliberately. They knew otherwise.

This is fraud. And as a result, people died.

In March of this year Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family reached a $270 million settlement with the State of Oklahoma to avoid the TV courtroom battle.

Charmin Freshmate wipes clogging our sewer system, this is not.

Frankly, it’s not about dollars either. I would not expect that money will ever change hands. Purdue Pharma will seek bankruptcy protection.

We can quantify the costs to the city of Prior Lake related to naloxone kits (Narcan — our officers now carry this product as a first response to overdoses), costs to cover the delivery of training and personnel costs. We can quantify the number of deaths or lives that have been destroyed by these products.

That money, and those lives, are lost.

Looking forward, it’s about prevention and holding those responsible for misdeeds accountable. It’s about identifying a public health crisis and seeking a remedy.

I was the only member of our council that supported our participation in the multidistrict litigation. The suit joins thousands of other municipalities convening in front of a Cleveland judge. They are seeking accountability, clarity around how we got here and a way forward.

Our mayor, a medical industry veteran, suggested we should not consider the suit against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family because of the many prescribers, pharmacies and other players involved. They’re all to blame.

There is no question the Sackler family was intentional in their efforts to mislead the public about OxyContin’s potency and addictive properties. They knowingly deceived their downstream partners. So the industry proceeded with misleading marketing efforts sourced from the manufacturer.

Our society does not fear going after the tip of the sword regardless of downstream players. As Councilor Annette Thompson often says, “They broke the law!”

Do our laws catch flies but allow hornets to go free? Little thieves are hanged, but great ones escape?

A parallel can be drawn with the 2008 financial crisis. White-collar criminals knowingly packaged worthless mortgage-backed securities but marketed them as investment gold. None of them were held accountable. The losses were socialized and the profits, individualized.

Eight years ago, I was involved in a horrific snowmobile accident. I lost the use of my left arm and the resulting spinal cord injury will deliver chronic pain for the entirety of my life. In a narcotic haze of opioids, chronic sleep deprivation, awash in pain wondering how I was going to rebuild my life with paralysis, I wanted to eat a shotgun. I nearly became part of the statistics sited herein.

I’ve been through withdrawal four times. I’ve been clean for four years. I have great empathy for those who have willingly or unwillingly been led down the road of addiction.

Robert Kennedy said, "Every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

Benjamin Franklin and others are credited with saying, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

I have no interest in pursuing money. I want to pursue predators that have compromised our public safety.

In five minutes, your council decided to acquiesce and not prosecute drug runners in our community.

I disagree.

Kevin Burkart is a Prior Lake accountant, entrepreneur and member of the City Council. 


Recommended for you